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Department of Education - Religious Freedom on Campus

Brief Background of the Regulation

For 40 years, CLS student chapters and other religious student organizations have frequently encountered problems in becoming, or remaining, recognized student organizations on public university campuses. To address this problem, the United States Department of Education adopted, in September 2020, two regulations that would protect the ability of religious student organizations to remain on public university campuses.

Now the Department of Education has announced, on August 19, 2021, that it is considering revising the regulations in a way that would harm religious student organizations' ability to meet on some public university campuses. The Department of Education has not yet published its proposed revisions. When it does so, it will be important for people of faith to comment on why the current regulations should not be revised. Please check back regularly, as information on proposed revisions and step-by-step instructions on how to comment will be posted here as soon as they are available.

Final Regulations 34 CFR 75.500(d) and 34 CFR 76.500(d) ensure equal treatment of religious student organizations at public institutions of higher education. Regulation 34 CFR § 75.500(d) states (with § 76.500(d) being essentially verbatim):

"As a material condition of the Department's grant, each grantee that is a public institution shall not deny to any student organization whose stated mission is religious in nature and that is at the public institution any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution (including but not limited to full access to the facilities of the public institution, distribution of student fee funds, and official recognition of the student organization by the public institution) because of the religious student organization's beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs." 85 Fed. Reg. 59916 (Sept. 23, 2020).

Any questions? Please contact Kim Colby at kcolby@clsnet.org


18 Reasons Why Regulations 34 CFR § 75.500(d) and § 76.500(d) Should be Left Alone

Because they:

  • Protect students’ freedom of speech and religious freedom
  • Ensure that religious student groups are treated fairly and even-handedly
  • Give college administrators clarity for their decision making
  • Save taxpayers’ money by preventing costly lawsuits against public colleges
  • Advance ideological diversity on taxpayer-funded campuses by preventing censorship of students’ religious speech
  • Teach students to respect their fellow students’ different religious beliefs
  • Teach students to listen to one another even if they disagree
  • Give students who may feel their religious beliefs are not respected in the classroom or dorm a place where they can talk and feel comfortable with like-minded students
  • Protect all Americans from reaping a society that is intolerant of minority religious beliefs and practices, which will occur if college students learn that religious speech can be suppressed at public colleges
  • Provide a practical example for international students at American colleges of what true free speech and religious freedom look like, so that they can aspire to improve protections for these basic human rights in their home countries
  • Respect the Establishment Clause, which is violated when government officials dictate to religious groups their leadership standards
  • Respect the Establishment Clause, which is violated when government officials penalize religious groups because of their religious beliefs and speech
  • Allow religious student groups to continue to make positive contributions on their campuses
  • Allow religious student groups to continue to serve as emotional support for students away from home for the first time, especially during times of increased stress
  • Allow religious student groups to provide a place for religious sustenance for students away from their home congregation
  • Allow religious student groups to fill a void that the state cannot fill because the state is not allowed to lead devotional religious activity, yet many students sincerely want to meet on campus with other students to talk about religious ideas and beliefs
  • Allow religious student groups to continue to give students practical experience in learning to serve others through their service projects on campus, in their communities, or at a national and international level
  • Provide consistent protection for students’ speech and religious freedom regardless of the state in which a student chooses to attend college